In his indispensable book “On Tyranny”, Timothy Snyder lays out the fairly predictable tick tock that democracies experience while succumbing to authoritarianism. It’s impossible not to see us well into that experience. Someone claiming to tweet for German film maker Werner Herzog put it this way (Herzog doesn’t do social media: the tweet itself is spot on in its thinking regardless of who really tweeted it):
The lack of literal accuracy aside (a third v a third v a third), that is how authoritarianism ultimately works. A minority of the population declares war on another minority of the population and uses the rest of the population to achieve that goal. In a place like Germany, that was easy to accomplish since the authoritarian minority — Hitler and his acolytes — were going after a genuine minority (and an isolated minority at that) — the Jews. The rest of Germany had zero investment or interest in protecting Jews from the authoritarian minority since, in the eyes of those Germans, the Jews were outsiders anyway. Screw em! Hitler’s brown shirts also were aided in their rise by the general nature of the German character. That “character” was forged over the course of a thousand or so years by the various Germanic tribes — the same ones that brought down Rome — slowly melting together (with a few localized idiosyncrasies) into the nationality we recognize as “German”. The same thing happened across the border in France. Since the end of WWII, Italy has had 66 governments (that’s one every 1.14 years); that’s because Italy is still less a country than a contrived federation of city-states — the same city-states they’ve been for 1500 years; only fascism could hold the federation together). Back in Germany, that thousand years of fusing together produced a “German tribe” with certain distinct and distinctive attributes — like a willingness to go along with the group because it’s the group.
America hasn’t been around anywhere near long enough for that complex process to happen — for a coming together of disparate local tribes to form a true national character. Never mind judging America for what it was or is — that’s like judging a little kid’s future based on what that little kid (precocious as it is) has accomplished so far. It’s premature actually. My suspicion is America is still the diamond before the pressure of the surrounding rocks turns a bunch of carbon into valuable crystals. We’re still a great idea poorly executed. What else can one call “All men are created equal” when “all men” only includes white, Christian, land-owning MEN. Oh, right — we call it “originalism”.
The crisis we’re in flows directly from white panic and rage. Having built the entire southern economy on the back of slave labor, the whites getting rich off that economy were not going to surrender their claim to power just because Lee surrendered their army at Appomattox. The Confederate Army may have shuffled off into history, Confederate ardor, as we know, did not. And Confederate ardor is pure, unadulterated racism. This has always been the wellspring from which undemocratic and anti-democratic ideas flowed — the desire to keep America white (like it “used to be”).
The Right Wing’s money — the Kochs, the Mercers and the rest of their ilk — turns up its nose at such overt racism. They’d never sport a Confederate flag. But they sure do love the Confederacy’s ideals. And the Confederacy’s whiteness. Our founders were racists who sacrificed their higher ideals because they thought one could negotiate with racists and racism. You can’t. Racism automatically won because racism NEVER compromises — especially when it’s riding a cash cow. As the Reagan era — that “shining, racist g city on a hill” — ended with a whimper, the right wing money saw demographic doom ahead. The GOP had finally evolved from the Party Of Lincoln into the exclusively white, Southern-Strategy-Dixiecrat Party. That party, per the recent census, is shrinking. That is, it’s membership pool is shrinking.
What’s a white’s only political party to do in a country that’s diversifying as rapidly as America was and is? If you’re white guys, you do what white guys have historically done back in the white homeland, Europe: you turn fascist. You circle the white wagons around your whiteness and you count on everyone else’s whiteness to pull most of the white population together defensively. It always works.
But, the white guys in America have a problem the white guys in Europe never had: a majority population who ISN’T them. That doesn’t have their collective history. That has zero interest in white guys behaving like bullies, monsters and fascists. In other words, the very “third” the authoritarian Republican third is counting on to do their dirty work simply doesn’t exist in America. Instead of a a sea of compliant white people dully staring back at them, America’s authoritarians see diversity. They see the thing that really and truly makes America EXCEPTIONAL. The thing that never happened in any country in the world before in human history: a gathering of tribes to form a single nation: E Pluribus Unum.
Out of many, one.
E Pluribus Unum was the ingredient missing from all previous authoritarian power grabs. It made the power grab not only possible but likely to succeed. Add that ingredient to the GOP’s power grab and their likelihood of success plunges because there’ll be no minority to stand by silently while the GOP bullies all those other minorities. And all those minorities the Republicans are counting on quietly bullying into submission? They’ve banded together — into a majority! Because that is how democracy works.
If the Republicans do somehow bludgeon their way back into power, they’ll have a massive insurrection of their own to fend off — a democratic insurrection dedicated to wiping out their authoritarian (wet) dream state. And the authoritarians, armed to the teeth, can’t take a whole lot of comfort in being armed to the teeth. This is America. Everyone is armed to the teeth right along with them. And the Right Wing better not count on having America’s professional soldier class in their corner.
These are terrifying times — no argument. But we can project ahead based both on history and how it is on the ground right here in reality. It’s already too late for white male hegemony to succeed long term in America. It was too late at the country’s founding. The majority’s wokeness cannot be un-woked. Every other group now grasps what the radical whites are up to and we will never, ever go along with it.
As I said, America’s diversity is its exceptionalism. It’s also our saving grace, too.